Monarchs who suffered from mental illness

One of the essential characteristics of a leader is his ability to make sound decisions and to think straight and just despite all the pressures, criticisms and possible threats he is subjected to. However, when mental health awareness did not yet exist, some kings and queens sat on their thrones, regardless of ability (or lack thereof), to make decisions that made sense for the people. Here are some monarchs who suffered from mental illnesses.

Dona Maria I, Queen of Portugal (Jose Leandro de Carvalhopublic domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

Dona Maria, I reigned from February 24, 1777, as Queen of Portugal. She was the eldest daughter of King Dom Jose I and Infanta Doña Mariana Victoria of Spain. She was heir to the throne and was placed in power upon her father’s death. She was 42 at that time. She married her uncle Infante Dom Pedro in 1760. They had six children, three of whom survived infancy.

Once in power, the first thing she did was fire her father’s powerful chief minister, Sebastiao Jose de Carvalho e Melo, the first Marquess of Pombal. Maria was very successful in leading the country: Portugal’s economy was growing, and she ordered the construction and renovation of national buildings, including the completion of the Palace of Queluz and the inauguration of the Palace of Ajuda.

She was a fantasy queen until her husband died in 1786, and her performance began to plummet. At first, she had to be taken back to her chambers in a delirious state. Soon she banned all court entertainment and replaced it with religious ceremonies.

Queen Maria got worse when her eldest son died of smallpox two years later. She always said she was going to hell and demons were torturing the blackened corpse of her dead father. Francis Willis diagnosed her with mental illness and wanted to take her to England for treatment, but the Portuguese court refused. Maria’s second son took over the government in her place, although he did not take the title of Prince Regent until 1799.

As for the queen, she would stay and lie in her apartments all day, visitors complaining about her cries that echoed throughout the palace.

Eric XIV of Sweden. (national museumpublic domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

Eric XIV was the King of Sweden, from 1560 to 1569. He was the eldest son and heir of Gustav I and Catherine of Saxe-Lauenburg. He was known to be an intelligent and artistically gifted leader, with the majority of his reign being dominated by the Livonian War and the Seven Years’ War in Scandinavia.

From 1563, Erik began to show signs of paranoia which turned his rule into violence. People caught laughing, smiling or whispering within earshot of the king would be charged with treason and sentenced to death. His suspicions reached the Sture family when he accused Svante Stensson Sture’s son, Nils, of treason. He changed his mind and instead sent Nils to marry Renata of Lorraine. When Nils returned, Erik suspected him of high treason and murdered several members of the Stures family, with Erik himself stabbing Nils.

After the murder, which he may have seen as an execution, the king wandered into the woods and did not return for three days. At one point he thought he was his brother. Unable to rule, it is his brother who takes the throne. As for Erik, he died in 1577 as a result of poisoned pea soup.

Maria Eleonora of Brandenburg. (According to Michiel Jansz. van Mierevelt public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

Maria Eleonora was a German princess who became Queen of Sweden after marrying King Gustav II Adolph. For many years she tried to give him a son who would be their heir. However, things were not easy as Maria Eleonora had several stillbirths and miscarriages.

Finally, she gave birth to a live baby, which fortune tellers said was a boy. However, she instead gave birth to a daughter. King Gustavus Adolphus was happy to have a daughter and named her after his mother. However, Maria Eleonora was devastated that their daughter Christina was not a son. Seeing her, she cried: “Instead of a son, I am given a daughter, dark and ugly, with a big nose and black eyes.” Take it from me. I will not have such a monster!

She tried to make their daughter suffer or probably kill her several times. Once, a beam mysteriously fell on her cradle. Another time, she “accidentally” fell down a flight of stairs. On another, a nanny was accused of dropping poor baby Christina on a stone floor which injured her shoulder. Finally, because of this, the baby was placed under the king’s sister.

When King Gustav died at the Battle of Lutzen, Maria Eleonora wept for a long time and closed herself off from the world with her curtains draped in black. She also lit candles day and night. Seven-year-old Christina was reunited with her mother. Maria Eleonora made him sleep under where his father’s heart hung in a golden coffin. She witnessed how her mother fell seriously ill, developing an ulcer on her left breast which caused her terrible pain and high fever. Maria Eleonora didn’t let her husband’s body be buried underground until 18 months later, so she could sometimes touch him.

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